Transitions

Last month I almost made a bad decision.

It was the day before my Women’s Conversation Café – a regular event I host for women to share stories and experiences around money with family and friends and talk about important issues in their life. At each event we learn about our relationships with money and finances. Last month was the largest group I had hosted at the Culver Hotel.

I mentioned to my sister-in-law that I needed to look good for this event.

“You need some make-up,” she said.

So the day before my big event I decided to go shopping for make-up. It was a bad decision because I was feeling desperate and pressured. Add to that the fact that I never really shop for beauty products. It comes from a deeply-held belief that my mother taught me: a woman’s life can be just as good without makeup.

But this wasn’t China in the 80s, this was the US in 2016 and I had an important day where I needed to feel confident and self-assured. But, I was running out of time. Walking into the store, I had a familiar feeling. A feeling I’ve seen in the clients that have talked with me in my office. I was overwhelmed and confused by all the choices in front of me.

I felt stressed.

I wanted to leave.

And then it occurred to me – buying makeup feels just like managing our personal finances:

1. There’s no shame in not knowing. As I looked around at all the options in front of me, I felt embarrassed. My sister-in-law was incredulous that in 40 years I had never learned to apply make-up. But it was just because I hadn’t taken the time to learn. I told her, “Don’t laugh – I bet you don’t know the difference between a mutual fund and an ETF!”

I thought of all the daughters who were told that managing household finances is not their concern, only to learn later that this is a life skill they desperately need. But I know fear goes away with knowledge. Once my clients take the time to learn about finance, they begin to feel more confident in making decisions. So I, too, would become confident about make-up.

2. Don’t wait until you are desperate. Despite planning for my event a full six months in advance, I still waited until the day before to try to change my look. Not a smart idea, because it left me with very few choices. My desperation made me vulnerable to bad advice and rash decisions.

Just like with our finances.

At last month’s Women’s Conversation Café, a woman told a story of her husband’s passing. She shared that she was so overwhelmed with grief and new responsibilities after his death, that it was not the best time to learn how manage the family finances. I always tell my clients to plan ahead and learn about finances when they have the time and mental space to ask questions.

3. Get an expert you trust. Luckily, I didn’t have to just trust the salesperson because I had my sister-in-law, Van, with me. She was the only reason I didn’t walk out of that store empty-handed, or worse yet, with one of everything. You see, Van had no conflict of interest and no commission to make. She wasn’t an expert on all of the products in the store, but she was an expert on me.

Just like with our finances. There are a lot of products out there, and a lot of options. But the important thing is to find someone that will listen to your needs, not just talk about special products. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest.

4. Create priorities and goals. After listening for a few minutes about special creams, masks, and techniques. I stopped. I told Van, “Stop telling me about the product. Look at my face. What are three things I can do?” This was my way of going back to my priority – to look good the next day. I knew I could come back to more sophisticated, long-term solutions another time.

When it comes to personal finances, I practice using a “Decision Free Zone” with my clients are overwhelmed with choices. We write down all the things on their mind and we organize them into three categories: What do we need to address now, soon, and later? Just like me at the make-up counter, it focusses and simplifies the situation.

Despite my poor planning when it came to my own beauty regimen, I managed to leave the store with some simple products that fit my needs, budget, and personal style. The next day, I walked into my event feeling confident (see below for a picture of Carolyn and me from the event). Now, I won’t be getting my cosmetology degree anytime soon, but I did conquer my fear of the beauty counter and I just might return in the future.

If you want to talk about gaining financial confidence, you can reach me at lcao@silveroakwa.com

Linda Cao & Dr. Carolyn Friend Women's Conversation Cafe